Eric Biddulph-West

Week 1:

This lab session was the first class. We spent it first in the classroom going over broad archeological concepts like: what archeology is, some overview of methods archeologists use, some terminology, and even how not to excavate. I learned that archeology is truly very multidisciplinary but has its roots and scope towards anthropology–more specifically the study of humans and their relationship to the environment. We also briefly covered the multiple interpretations of archeological evidence specifically the processual and post-processual debates of the 1990s.

Next, we headed outside to take a tour of the arb with Nancy Baker. We were planning on going to the iron bridge and then down to the women’s cabin, but decided to cut our adventure short in order to make it back to campus on time. One memorable experience I had was stopping along the trail to observe a brick that seemed out of place along the pebbled trail. Using landscape surveying and drawing conclusions about the surrounding area based on prior information (that there was severe flooding in the region), we were able to hypothesize that the brick had been carried here via flood water. An alternative hypothesis was that the brick was laid to keep the trail level due to the shifting and unstable ground. We then arrived at the women’s cabin, which was the site of the last archeology class’ excavation project. I thought it was very interesting the different aspects of history stories that archeologists can infer based on artifacts found on site.

Week 2:

This week’s lab was spent out. First we went to the library archives to meet with Nat Wilson to hear about how the archives can be accessed and used for historical research. He showed us some files on the Women’s Cabin as an example of the kind of resources the housed there: primary documents, pictures, etc. Next we went to the Rice County Historical Society to learn about stone tools. We met archeologist Merv who showed us the stone tool collections donated by Smith and Hamilton. He was put to the task of sorting and identifying all the tools in the collection. (Archeological caveat: don’t collect artifacts without recording where you found them. The artifact has significantly less meaning without context). We talked all about the kinds of arrowheads: the bigger ones were for killing mammoths, later tribes made more intricate tools like axes and scrapers and they even cerated their arrowheads and added notches. Finally, we went to the site of the Archibald flour mill that had burned down (flour is flammable). I thought it was very cool to see the site that I had read about. Knowing the story of how a profitable method of making flour was passed around and even stollen and imitated made seeing the sight all the more interesting.

Week 3:

Today, we spent time demoing a pedestrian field-walking survey. The demo was set up so that we split up into three groups and transected separate areas of the field by the student farm. Some members of each group were field walkers, another member was a mapper, and another filled out the survey area forms, which documented the artifact finds and unit area location. The field-walkers would space themselves out 10 meters between them. Using a compass, they would orient themselves to walk due north, picking up artifacts and reporting these discoveries on the unit area survey form. The mapper would decide how far the unit are was to extend north and would mark the corners of each survey unit area with a flag (a brightly colored strip of plastic that’s tied to the ground in some way). This was where I encountered difficulty: field walkers were walking north but the hill sloped slightly northeast. Also, the field-walkers walked at different paces, so the line they made was misleading. As the mapper who defined the boundaries of the unit area, I ended up not putting the flags down north of the other flags as I was distracted by the hill and the field-walkers.

All three groups each got about 5 unit areas surveyed. Our discoveries ranged from quite a few golf balls (from a driving range across the street) to modern-day plastic trash to an old rusty hubcap. We decided to leave some artifacts but take the old-looking ones in plastic bags after we documented where and by whom they were discovered.

Week 4:

This week’s lab component was spent surveying the Pine Hill Village area behind Goodhue Dorm. Most of the class followed Alex to do a new form of survey from the last week. Instead of walking only transecting lines, field-walkers were assigned octants, or areas in which to vacuum collect all artifacts. This way, we were doing a much more comprehensive survey rather than collecting data about statistics of distribution of artifacts. Some students walked through the wooded area carrying string with flags tied in uniform distribution. The string visually mapped out octants that Alex decided was best for our survey.

Our discoveries included alcohol containers and modern-day trash. It was hard to tell from how long ago these artifacts were. What looked like old trash really could have been from even a few years ago to a few months ago. We bagged these artifacts and documented their location.

I helped use the differential GPS to mark the locations of features in the site area. Features were artifacts or human evidence that might or might not have had relevance to Pine Hill Village that we were unable to bag and take back to the classroom. The first and most promising feature was a fire hydrant pipe on the surface. We took the equivalent of waypoints on either side of the hydrant, noted it’s orientation and material make-up, and even sketched it. We did the same for a hunk of concrete adjacent to the hydrant pipe. We then did the same for a mound of rocks that could be covering the foundation of an old structure. We then did the same for the stone path down the hill to Goodhue.

Week 5:

This week’s lab component continued our work on the Pine Hill Village site. This week I was assigned to finish the grid-line field-walking survey. I partnered up with JP and we finished the few plots that the class hadn’t gotten to last week. Unfortunately, it was raining very hard. Fortunately, I had rain pants and a rain jacket! Of course, the plots that students hadn’t gotten to last week were the hardest plots to reach due to over-grown brush. About an hour or so was spent diving into the thicket. The ground visibility was very poor due to the thicket, and being thorough was arduous due to the weather conditions.

JP and I found a few golf balls, plastic wrappers, and a flat cylindrical can of rusted metal that appeared to be a tobacco canister. Other field-walking surveyors didn’t find much either. We decided to gather our things and head to the recreation center to fill out our forms (not ideal, but it was impossible to fill the forms in in the heavy rain). We had to be extra sure not to mix any of the artifacts. Compared to the survey from last week, we had much fewer artifacts. This is probably because of the kind of plots we were surveying: densely wooded where people are less likely to be. Of course, it should also be suggested that we weren’t able to do as good of a job due to the conditions and the visibility limitation.

After we were done finishing last week’s area, another group of students had finished marking off the rest of the grid lines. By then the rain had stopped and we were able to finish the grid by the end of the day.

Week 6:

For this week’s lab, I joined an excavation team working in Trench 1. Trench 1 was located directly over the fire hydrant found on the surface. The trench had already been started last week, so I quickly learned from other members how to go about excavating. We had to leave about 4 inches of dirt on either side of the fire hydrant as we dug deeper. This was to ensure that the hydrant didn’t role or fall into the pit or injure one of the team members. Thus, Trench 1 ended up looking like 2 trenches on either side of the hydrant. I began digging in the North-west corner of the trench. There, I discovered a big piece of cement and later an entire area of asphalt. Knowing how to excavate was one thing, but actually doing it was much harder. I say this with reference to the idea to dig horizontally down, not just vertically. When I first uncovered the piece of cement, I only say the top of it of course. But then the excitement overcame my judgment and I ended up plucking it out of its context to see what it was. This was a mistake because it’s important to discover artifacts in relation to its context and potentially other artifacts. Had the piece of cement been horizontally next to something else, I would never know. Doing excavation correctly takes much more patience than I was anticipating.

We dug for a bit and it wasn’t long until our group uncovered glass. In the North-east corner of the trench, we discovered a piece of thick glass—and then another, and another and more. These pieces were clear and even seemed to fit together to form what we speculate was a picture frame. Nothing can be said for sure, however, especially before we examine the artifact more closely. During this, I restrung the outline of the trench using pink string. Later, another member discovered a cobblestone walkway. One cobblestone was on the south side of the fire hydrant, and another was north. They seemed to make a pretty clear path in the north-south direction, over which the fire hydrant sat perpendicularly.

Week 7:

This week I was with the shovel test pit group. I partnered up with Hugh and we set out to dig in the center of most of the survey squares. The idea was to dig a quick pit to uncover features. Excavations aimed for artifacts, but shovel test pits didn’t sift through the dirt as carefully. We were just trying to “chase” down features of Pine Hill Village like edges and corners of asphalt lots, or building foundations. Each pit was to be about the diameter of the shovel head and the height of it too. The reason it needed to be so thin mainly was for efficiency. Hugh and I, however, found that the most efficient way to do this was to make the pit a bit wider than the diameter of the shovel, that way we could get a little leverage when scooping out soil.

In all the pits I dug, there were two very distinctive subterranean contexts. After the surface (which is always context 1), the next being dark soil that seemed rich with nutrients, and after that a more sandy orange soil consistently about a foot down. This soil was very smooth and much more homogenous. We also consistently found no artifacts in the lower context. Alex speculates that this soil is sterile: no cultural artifacts to be discovered lay there because it is from a time before European settlers occupied the area.

Hugh and I dug about 5 pits. It was exhausting. We didn’t find much at all. We found glass, chunks of asphalt and a piece of brick. Other groups, however, found huge slabs of concrete and even part of a Ford sign. I am excited to analyze these artifacts on Tuesday.

Week 8:

This lab day was used to catalogue all of the artifacts recovered from the excavation pits, the grid walking survey over P.H.V. and the demo field-walking survey from the first lab unit. I was assigned to the demo survey. My group got to work. The job went like this: I would take the artifacts out of the bag and estimate from which objects these artifacts were from. The idea was that if I found two objects of different materials that looked to be from the same object, those objects would be re-bagged and labeled as one “lot.” This of course, did not happen for any of the artifacts (i.e. all different material artifacts were from different objects). So, it ended up that I just assigned each bag a lot number. I then would clean the artifact in the sink, which was harder than I imagined it would be. Then I would take a picture of the clean artifact with the relevant information and a scale in the frame. The rest of the group gravitated towards data sheet documentation. They would write down the relevant information and then get to work determining where and when the artifact was from. This was very frustrating that I was the only one cleaning and taking pictures of artifacts. I feel like the process was elongated because I was working alone.

Week 9:

This lab day was also used to continue the artifact cleaning. I picked up my same job as last time and slowly made progress, but this time I had one person helping me. That was nice. I was kind of confused why we were even going through the artifacts from the student farm field at all. Since the field where these artifacts came from was not even near the area of the Pine Hill Village, I can’t really tell why we used any resources document or tracing artifacts merely from the top soil from a location distant from our focus. Anyway, even with the help of one other person, we were not able to finish all of the artifact cleaning and documenting.

I left the arb office with Joey to go take photos of trench 1 for our final project. It was, of course, raining. Once we got there, we were met by another final project group who were hosting Community Archaeology Day. This made photography difficult in a number of ways. A that they set up tarp made mobility much harder making taking photographs at a constant elevation nearly impossible. I was nervous how Agisoft photoscan would deal with our photos not being level. Additionally, we had to take photos multiple times because students or Community Archaeology Day visitors would accidentally walk through the frame.

Week 10:

This week was the last class for ACRN246. We used this time first to discuss a growing problem for archaeology as a discipline: where to store all the artifacts. It seems that most people focus only on the recovery, collection, and recording of artifacts and features as archaeologists. Merely no one knows what to do with things after the project has been completed. This is a shame, as there is definitely a lot that can be learned from artifacts even after they are originally dug up. Additionally, this storage crisis can mean the decay and destruction of artifacts, loss of information, and even mixing of project findings. It was pointed out in the reading assigned that this was more of a monetary and resource issue than it was an educational issue. I think photography and even photogrammetry can help with this. Once digital records are collected, the artifacts can even be released back out (called catch and release archaeology).

Next we transitioned into discussion about how to wrap up our own Pine Hill Village project and where to store all the artifacts. We considered the potential interest of the Carleton Community and even future classes of ACRN246 who might potentially want to continue to work on the Pine Hill Village area. We decided to stow all the artifacts and keep them for the future. Carleton will have an archaeology lab very soon in the future!

Lastly, Joey and I took photogrammetry pictures of a piece of cement. This was the most likely artifact we found from the whole project to be a part of Pine Hill Village. We too two chunks of photos and headed off to the GIS lab to process and compile them. It went very smoothly for once. And we enjoyed pizza back in the Arb Office to end the course.